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Americans Weigh More, but Shun "Overweight" Label

Story Highlights

  • Comparing 2003-2007 with 2013-2017, the average weight is up 3 pounds
  • Over same period, average "ideal" weight increased 4 pounds
  • Fewer Americans now view themselves as overweight

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans have become slightly heavier in recent years, but they also seem to have grown more comfortable with it. Between 2003-2007 and 2013-2017, Americans' self-reported weight edged up along with the number of pounds they offer as their "ideal" weight, yet the percentage who consider themselves overweight has declined.

As Average Weight Goes Up, Concerns About Weight Go Down
2003-2007 2008-2012 2013-2017
Average weight in pounds* 174 lbs. 176 lbs. 177 lbs.
Ideal weight in pounds* 157 lbs. 160 lbs. 161 lbs.
Percent who say they are overweight 41% 38% 38%
Percent who want to lose weight 60% 56% 52%
Percent trying to lose weight 28% 28% 25%
Gallup polls aggregated for years 2003-2007, 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. *Self-reported

Much of the change since 2003 occurred in the middle of that period, from 2008-2012. However, Americans' actual weight and ideal weight have crept up slightly since then. While Americans are heavier, they are less likely to see themselves as overweight compared with 2003-2007, which aligns with the finding that they are also less likely to want to lose weight or to be seriously trying to cut pounds.

Women More Likely Than Men to View Themselves as Overweight

Among Americans, women are more likely than men to describe themselves as overweight. Additionally, the difference between their self-reported weight and their "ideal weight" is larger than it is for men. In the past five years, there has been an average 18-pound difference between women's 158-pound actual weight and their 140-pound ideal weight. The gap for men is 12 pounds: 195-pound actual weight vs. 183-pound ideal weight.

Actual, Ideal Weight Increasing for Both Sexes
2003-2007 2008-2012 2013-2017
Average weight in pounds*
Men 193 lbs. 195 lbs. 195 lbs.
Women 155 lbs. 158 lbs. 158 lbs.
Ideal weight in pounds*
Men 179 lbs. 182 lbs. 183 lbs.
Women 136 lbs. 139 lbs. 140 lbs.
Percent who say they are overweight
Men 38% 33% 35%
Women 45% 42% 40%
Gallup polls aggregated for years 2003-2007, 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. *Self-reported

The percentage of Americans saying they are overweight dropped from 41% in 2003-2007 to 38% for 2013-2017. In the most recent period, 35% of men and 40% of women say they are overweight. A majority of men (59%) and women (53%) now see their weight as "about right," while 6% of both sexes think they are underweight.

This review of Americans' weight issues combines results from five-year periods of Gallup's annual November Health and Healthcare survey to allow a more in-depth look at how Americans view their actual weight and how much they think they should weigh. It also provides assurance that the changes in actual weight and "ideal weight" are statistically significant.

Men, Women Differ in Weight Perception by Age, Education, Income

Not only do men and women differ in their perceptions of how far they are from their ideal weight, but those differences also show up when looking at age, education and income levels.

The higher the income bracket for men, the wider the gap, on average, between actual weight and ideal weight. For those with annual household incomes of less than $30,000, the average difference is 9 pounds, but for men with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, the difference averages 14 pounds -- most of it the result of more affluent men weighing more on average than those with lower incomes.

The opposite is true for women: Those with household incomes of less than $30,000 have an average difference between actual and ideal weight of 22 pounds, but it drops to 15 pounds for those in the $75,000-and-above income bracket. Though the "ideal weight" is slightly lower for higher-income women, there is an obvious drop in actual weight compared with lower-income women.

A similar split occurs with regard to education. Men with no college have the smallest gap between what they want to weigh and what they do weigh. Women with no college have the largest gap.

Bottom Line

Health officials have been warning Americans for decades about the dangers of being overweight, but the average weight of both men and women has continued to climb. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 40% of U.S. adults are "obese." One apparent way Americans cope with the knowledge they are gaining weight and the potential health problems this entails is to adjust their idea of what they should weigh.

Over the same period of time, Americans have become less likely to see themselves as overweight, are less likely to want to lose weight, and are less likely to say they are trying seriously to lose weight. Until these trends can be reversed (without contributing to the unrealistic body images that some feel pressured to conform to), the weight problem that plagues the U.S. is not going away.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on three sets of five-years of combined results from the Gallup Poll's Social Series on Health and Healthcare -- 2003-2007, 2008-2012, and 2013-2017. Survey interviews were conducted by telephone interviews with random samples of adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For the 2003-2007 results, 5,044 adults were interviewed. For 2008-2012, 5,065 adults were interviewed. For 2013-2017, 4,935 adults were interviewed. For results based on the total samples of national adults, the margin of sampling error in all cases is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.